Rome tops this list, even though I recognize that my experience there would be impossible to duplicate. When I lived there the Euro hadn’t yet taken effect, so it was possible to live very cheaply, and I was a student, so I wasn’t expected to do anything but soak up the city and the culture. Nevertheless, living there was a life-changing experience–despite lingering racism and a traditional mindset that strikes this American as somewhat rigid, the Italians get a lot of things right when it comes to living. I didn’t move back to Rome after graduation only because my love lived in
San Francisco, the most European of American cities, which could easily occupy the top spot on this list. It’s beautiful, historical, and easy to navigate. It has mild (if a bit cold) weather, many ethnic neighborhoods, the ocean and the bay. It is not far from the resorts of Tahoe, the wineries of Napa and Sonoma, and the hiking/biking areas of the Marin Headlands. After surviving the gold rush dot-com days, when frankly living in the city sucked, and the depression of post-dot-com days, when the city was tolerable but my career was in the shitter, I feel a deep bond with that town. Despite its traffic issues, its so-democratic-nothing-can-get-done politics, and its lingering homeless problem, San Francisco tops the list of places in the U.S. I’d want to live. It broke my heart to leave for
Los Angeles, though LA has brought its own kind of excitement. After much poo-pooing on this town and its relentless sun, its plastic-surgeried denizens, and its love affair with cars, I have to admit that the sheer vastness of the place holds potential for many years of exploration. Plus, its warm weather puts it a hair’s-breadth ahead of
Chicago, which was the first real city I lived in and a truly American city at its core. My alma mater as well as Northwestern, DePaul, IIT, U of I, and others keep the intellectual fires burning, and I believe it’s one of the best–if not THE best–cities for live theater. The citizens of Chicago are the type that make you glad to be in the Midwest–mostly helpful and friendly, mostly in love with their city. I’m also grateful to have lived on the South Side, which was traditionally populated by blacks and blue-collar immigrants, so I was able to witness firsthand the scars of deep racism and segregation. I wish it didn’t exist, but it was certainly eye-opening, particularly coming from
Plano, a suburb like pretty much every other suburb in America, though it had the distinction of being the teen suicide capital of the U.S. in the ’80s and the teen heroin capital of the U.S. in the ’90s. I managed to escape the trappings of the wealthy, idle teens in that town, largely because we lived in an older home on the run-down east side. That still doesn’t change the soul-sucking feeling of anonymous suburban life, where the houses look the same, the shops and restaurants are the same chains, and the anonymity is stifling.